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War over constituency boundaries

by Lesotho Times
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…as congress parties demand 2022 elections on the basis of old constituencies  

Mohalenyane Phakela

THE country’s main political parties are at loggerheads over the delimitation of constituencies by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) ahead of next year’s elections.

The IEC is on record saying the elections will be held in September 2022 earliest when the life of the current parliament would have ended.

Leaked IEC documents seen by the Lesotho Times this week indicate that the electoral body had already conducted a preliminary delimitation exercise. The next step would have been the issuance of a gazette inviting the parties and the public to comment on the proposed new constituencies. However, the IEC commissioners are said to have suspended the delimitation in line with the demands of the some of the parties who have opposed the exercise.

Sources within the IEC and various parties said the IEC commissioners had sided with the congress parties, including the Democratic Congress (DC) and the Popular Front for Democracy (PFD) who insist that the delimitation should be put on hold and next year’s elections must be held under the current electoral constituencies which were delineated in 2010.

PFD leader who is also the Law and Justice Minister, Lekhetho Rakuoane, yesterday confirmed that his party wanted the delimitation exercise suspended as “there was not enough time to conduct it before the elections”.  He also said they were focused on the implementation of the multi-sector reforms, adding that there was no point in delineating constituencies and then having to redo the exercise after the reforms. DC spokesperson, Serialong Qoo, had initially promised to comment on the issue yesterday. He did not answer his mobile phone later in the day.

However, the sources insist the real reason behind the PDF, DC and other congress parties’ rejection of the preliminary delimitation and push for the deferment of the exercise is that the initial exercise had revealed that some of the rural constituencies would have to be dissolved because the populations of eligible voters were now well below the minimum threshold.

“The congress parties consider the rural constituencies their strongholds and they are therefore unhappy with the preliminary exercise which indicates that some of these constituencies would have to be dissolved and merged with others as they no longer meet the minimum threshold of eligible voters,” a source said.

“Conversely the ABC and its traditional allies are happy with the preliminary exercise because it indicates that many rural people have migrated to urban constituencies since the last delimitation in 2010. If the preliminary exercise is adopted, then the number of some rural constituencies would have to be reduced while the number of urban constituencies is increased to consider the increase in the urban population. The ABC and its allies support the preliminary findings because they consider urban areas their strongholds,” the source said.

Indeed the ABC swept most urban constituencies, winning all the constituencies in Maseru for instance, in the June 2017 elections.

Another source said the delimitation exercise was begun in 2018 under the previous commissioners, Mahapela Lehohla, ‘Mamosebi Pholo and Makase Nyaphisi.

“All that was left was for the new commissioners (Mphasa Mokhochane, Karabo Mokobocho and Tšoeu Petlane who were appointed in November 2020) to publish a gazette calling for pubic comments on the proposed new constituencies.

“However, the commissioners have taken the side of their congress allies and decided to suspend the delimitation exercise. The parties have been fighting over this issue ever since they received copies of the preliminary exercise earlier this year,” the source said.

ABC secretary general, Lebohang Hlaele, yesterday refused to say whether there was a fight with the DC and other congress parties over the delimitation of constituencies.

He however, said his party “strongly advocates for the review of constituencies”.

“I cannot speak on behalf of other political parties. But what I know for sure is that the ABC wants the constituencies to be reviewed before the elections take place next year.

“The IEC commissioners called all political parties to a meeting sometime in May this year. They told us that they intended to review the constituencies. We were told we would be called again when the exercise commences and we are still waiting for the call.

“The IEC is better placed to say whether there is enough time to conduct the exercise before elections,” Mr Hlaele said.

However, an IEC source said there was enough time to finalise the exercise since the preliminary work had already been done. In any event, the elections can only be held anytime from September 2022 when the life of the current parliament would have ended, the source said.

“This means that there is more than a year to finalise the delimitation exercise which has to be held every 10 years in line with the constitution. The exercise is long overdue as it should have been concluded in July 2020. It could not be finalised then because there were no commissioners,” the source said.

Meanwhile, the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC), a human rights body, has waded into the war over the delimitation of constituencies.

In his 31 August 2021 letter to the IEC, TRC director, Tsikoane Peshoane, urged the elections body to expedite the delimitation of constituencies.

Mr Peshoane said the failure to carry out the process “would be a grave breach of the constitution”.

“The TRC has been closely monitoring the (delimitation) process from the beginning until now when the newly appointed commissioners unilaterally suspended it without any public announcement justifying the decision. This is a constitutional process designed to ensure accurate representation of the electorates, which is a hallmark of democracy, hence the IEC must consider the completion of this process as a matter of urgency without any compromise.

“The TRC has learned that in line with the dictates of the constitution, the IEC had instituted the process of constituency delimitation. The TRC had also learned that a study that seeks to inform the delimitation of constituencies was done and that the next step was to publicise a gazette that will then invite opinions and or views on the proposed constituency boundaries.

“The TRC is of the position that constituency delimitation is not negotiable as it is a matter of constitutional dictates, hence the process should be seen through. The TRC is further of the position that, considering that general elections are set for September 2022, it is befitting that the delimitation of constituencies is executed expeditiously in full adherence to the constitution and the laws of Lesotho.

“It is in light of the aforementioned interest that the TRC writes to your good office requesting clarity and an explanation of the reasons that have made the commissioners to stop the delimitation of constituency boundaries,” Mr Peshoane wrote. His letter was copied to head of the SADC facilitation team to Lesotho, retired former South African Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke. It was also copied to the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, the political parties and various foreign missions in Lesotho.

The disputed preliminary delimitation exercise used the last census conducted in 2016 to set the minimum threshold for a constituency. According to the leaked preliminary document, there must be a minimum of 13 956 people and a maximum of 17 058 people to constitute a constituency.

The IEC is mandated by section 67 of the constitution to delineate and review constituency boundaries. It has to divide Lesotho into 80 constituencies and review such constituency boundaries not more than 10 years after the last review. In this case, the last review was conducted in 2010, meaning the exercise in once again due.

“The IEC has to maintain an equal number of the voting age population in all constituencies as one of the legal standards in electoral management,” the leaked IEC document states.

“The review (of constituency boundaries) has to be done in time before the IEC is engaged in preparing for the national assembly and local government elections. It has to be done in order to give candidates for both national assembly and local government elections time to familiarise themselves and deploy accordingly when elections come.”

The document states that the 2016 census indicated a total population of 2 007 201, with 1 240 537 people above the age of 18 and thus eligible to vote.

“Section 67(2) of the constitution indicates that all constituencies should have relatively equal number of voters. The upper limit is the highest expected number of voting age population per constituency and lower limit is the minimum number of inhabitants that can create a constituency.

“To get the minimum threshold, the total number of Basotho of age 18 and above, which is 1 240 537, is divided by 80 constituencies and that gives 15 507. The next step is to get 10 percent of 15 507 and that is 1551.

“The upper limit for each constituency shall be 17 058 after adding 15 507 to 1551. The lower limit shall be 13 956 after deducting 1551 from 15 507. This implies that each constituency must have total voters not less than 13 956 and not more than 17 058 people of 18 years and above.”

In line with this formula, the document then goes to show that some areas, particularly those in rural areas, would have to be dissolved and merged as they no longer meet the threshold.

Others, especially urban areas will gain more constituencies due to the influx of people and others reaching the legal age of majority since the last elections in June 2017.

Maseru which has a total of 336 309 eligible voters would have to gain four more constituencies to bring its total number to 22. It currently has 18 constituencies in terms of the last review in 2010.

Mafeteng (110 657 voters) would have to lose one constituency leaving it with seven. Mohale’s Hoek (101 368 voters) would have to lose two constituencies, leaving it with six. Quthing (69 616 voters) will lose one constituency and remain with four.

However, Butha-Buthe (72 516 voters), will retain its five constituencies. Leribe (210 534 voters) will also retain its 13 constituencies, Berea (164 773 voters) will retain its 11 constituencies.

Qacha’s Nek (43 956) will keep its three constituencies, Thaba Tseka (74 868 voters) will also retain its five constituencies and Mokhotlong (55 940 voters) will also keep its four constituencies.

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